Thrillin’ heroics. Firefly-ism. Sardonic humor. Usually uttered by someone heavily armed and wearing a funny hat. Unlikely to be either particularly thrilling or heroic.
Throw back Thursday. May 2008 was a tough time to be a foreigner in South Africa. Some might argue it’s still tough. But May 2008 was when things got really out of hand….
Not my picture. My pictures were likely shot with a blackberry and aren’t the greatest. But this is quite typical of the mobs from that time period.
My memories of these events are full of gaps now, since I have been the recipient of quite a lot of blunt force trauma in my life and my aptitude for retention resembles a rusted out Buick in a scrapyard more than anything grey and spongey.
I do remember driving into work in the morning (probably around 6am) and… thinking how misty is was (it was actually from all the fires) and I remember seeing two groups of people one on each side of the dual carriage way throwing rocks at each other. They paused so that I could drive through unhindered and then started pelting each other with rocks and bottles again. (this must have been quite early on in the troubles because the foreigners were still resisting and fighting back, as opposed to fleeing for their lives)
In any event, things got really bad over the next couple of days especially in the area where I had my warehouse because it was an industrial area with lots of… what is the right word for this… informal housing opportunities in the general area that were well populated with people from Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
I’m not sure exactly what set the whole thing off it off, but once it got going it really got going. Wikipedia article here. People got chased out of their homes which were then torched. If you resisted, or seemed somehow particularly odious to the mob, your life was likely in real jeopardy and you may have been ended by the sharp end of a machete, pick-ax or hatchet.
In total I think 60-something people were killed. And hundreds (if not thousands) of people were injured and/or displaced.
One of my workers (who was born in Malawi but was naturalized) phoned me to tell me there was a crowd coming down his street, house by house looking for foreigners. While he could easily pass off as a local, his neighbors knew his ancestry… and when you want to protect yourself from the mob… you’ll offer up any scapegoat to save yourself.
Me, in my body armor, ready to rumble. Took a selfie before heading out… as one does. Look how young I am!!!
I distinctly remember sitting in my office (listening to Rain from the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack* on my headphones) and loading shells into my shotgun.
*I mean if you’re going to go out in a blaze of glory… THAT’s the song you want to have playing during your preparation montage. Preferably shot in a tight Noir style.
Anyways, the first two were rock-salt rounds… which… I am led to believe would hurt like hell, but be non-lethal. Everything else after that was 00 buck, with a sling full of slugs for good measure, plus my Glock .40S&W. But I figured if I needed to resort to that it would likely be game over anyway by then. But you know… go down swinging.
Took my Company’s most busted up truck, in case we lost it and headed out to go rescue Ronny.
This is Ronny. Post event. With all his worldly possessions stuffed into two bags. They burnt his house to the ground probably an hour after I got to him. I don’t know if you can tell but he’s smiling for the camera. Maybe because his boss is a douche bag and made him pose with his all possessions for posterity.
This was typical of the aftermath once the mob had come for your shack. After evicting you they would burn it down or disassemble it and sell your corrugated walls and roof for scrap metal.
The nights were the most scary for these guys because the police would melt away, and under the cover of darkness you can really get your evil on.
One guy was necklaced outside my warehouse during the night. Necklacing is a South African… hmm… colloquialism, which I think gained popularity in the 80’s[?] and was used for executing (perceived) traitors within the ANC during apartheid. A gasoline filled rubber tire would be placed around the neck/and or body of the recipient and set on fire.
This isn’t my picture. But same time period… about three miles from where I was.
Anyway, the guys fat melted into the tar and for days afterward the crows risked vehicular death to try and pick the bits of meat out of the road.
This is one of the other Zimbabwean guys I rescued.
I can’t remember his name. Or even how he managed to come to live in the back of my warehouse. But he lost everything… all his possessions, money and travel documents. His accent would give him away immediately as a Johnny-foreigner so he couldn’t go outside. He’s wearing my green hoodie that I bequeathed to him, it already gets quite chilly here in May. How did I ever think green was my color? Also smiling. Doubt I would be, if I were in his situation. But anyway…
In true Anne Frank style, he lived behind my warehouse for about two months in one of the store rooms, sleeping on the floor in my sleeping bag and subsisting off canned food I bought for him. It’s a very weird feeling having a grownup completely dependent on you for survival. I don’t remember it being a particular pleasant experience, I’ll give it two stars on the life experience scale.
I also can’t remember what happened to him. I think, after things eventually calmed down I probably gave him money for a bus ticket back to the border. But… I’m assuming this is what happened. ‘Good luck. Don’t die’. Never heard from him again.
Like I said, not particularly thrillin’ or heroic. But I wanted to document it for my progeny as something I experienced.